How do we make sure that our classrooms are taught by effective teachers? Fire them. The government solution to fixing anything to do with its workforce is to throw more money at problems and employees, whether or not that money exists. Those of us who appreciate the hard truth of how the real world works know that this solution can only end in failure, debt, and tears. Whopping big teacher compensation packages combined with empty education coffers do not lead to great teachers or better schools, and certainly not the educational excellence our Department of Education is demanding.
How many teachers do we have to buy to make our kids smart?
While we hear a lot about what makes effective teachers, the government PR blitz prefers to focus on numbers. Big numbers. Last summer it was $25 billion and more teachers than anyone could count:
President Obama has proposed a plan that would prevent teacher layoffs, invest in comprehensive reform and strengthen public education. The President’s plan would provide $25 billion to prevent layoffs and support hundreds of thousands of teacher and other education jobs.¹
Hundreds of thousands is a popular figure (see: Big Government Threatens Us With Public Sector Jobs), though no one seems to know just what that number represents. The important number is the $25 billion, not the hundreds of thousands of teachers.
By February 2013 we were down to thousands of teachers in danger of losing their jobs² because of mandatory budget cuts, though we weren’t sure how we worked our way down to so few. Did we fire hundreds of thousands of teachers, did we decide to set our sights a little lower, or did the president want us to believe that more teachers were in danger than really were on the off chance that he could get his $25 billion?
Are effective teachers the most expensive teachers?
The Equity and Excellence Commission’s report to Arne Duncan had a few ideas on how to create great teachers and foster educational excellence. No big surprise that the commission’s thoughts on teacher pay are pretty close to Duncan’s and shored up his belief in rewarding teachers with $150,000 salaries.³
There are other ways to achieve educational excellence and to make sure we have great teachers teaching our kids. The public school system is a business like any other. Just ask teacher’s unions. Their business is booming in our public schools.
How do we create effective teachers without spending money we don’t have? Do what private businesses did during the recession. Cut back until you can afford what you have left. Nothing motivates like fear.
Conservative tip for affordable, effective teachers: scare them.
Here is a hot conservative tip for business owners: nothing rewards an employee’s efforts like letting them keep their job. Raises only go so far. Keeping your income means a lot more, especially when the prospects for finding another position are dismal.
Teachers are already well paid, many have absurdly generous benefits, and they receive regular raises thanks to union contracts. They should be more than satisfied. So why did teachers in Chicago don screaming bright red T-shirts and walk off the job last fall (see: Why Teachers Crazed for Higher Pay Are Still Better Than You)? Does their anger and unhappiness come from Washington dangling higher pay and insinuating that teachers are being cheated by the system?
Most workers would like to make a six figure salary, but millions of Americans would be happy with a lot less if they could find a job to put food on the table. Politically motivated fixes like higher teacher pay and higher taxes to keep teachers on the job are stop gap solutions that fail when the money dries up. Cutting back teacher positions, freezing or trimming pay and benefits, and keeping teacher’s unions at bay will help make education affordable, save money, and return teaching to an honored profession instead of a partisan entitlement.
Another conservative tip: if we save enough money through cutbacks and states reform their public retirement packages we might be able to rehire a few teachers. We could even pass out raises to top performers if the one size fits all approach in union contracts doesn’t prevent it. That’s how you create an effective workforce. Just ask any small business employee still working after the first four years of Obama.